2024: Aaron Hoffmann
The Minnesota Pork Board recognizes Aaron Hoffmann as this year’s Swine Manager of the Year award recipient.
Leading by example sets the standards on a team by building trust, creating a collaborative environment and forming a culture of accountability. This is exactly how Aaron Hoffmann of Schwartz Farms Inc. (SFI) shows up as a manager, employee and leader.
There’s no question Hoffmann strives to do what is right for pigs, people and the planet. He embodies core values of the Minnesota pork industry, including the industry’s ethical principles of food safety, animal well-being, our people, our community, public health and the environment. His willingness to grow through roles and rise to the challenge of being a successful part of the Minnesota pork industry showcases his well-earned title of 2024 Swine Manager of the Year.
Growing with the Farm
Hoffmann grew up on his family’s farm near Sleepy Eye. Going into college, Hoffmann was undecided on a career to pursue, but found his way into the pork industry and has never looked back.
Hoffmann earned a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Management from South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. Upon graduation in 1997, he pursued an opportunity to work on a sow farm. About four months into the job, Mark Schwartz called Hoffmann with a job opportunity as a Nursery Production Manager with SFI. Aware Hoffmann was working in the pork industry, the Schwartz family wanted to see if he would be interested in moving back home to work for their growing farm. Although Hoffmann enjoyed the work he was doing at the time, he ultimately decided working for SFI was something he wanted to pursue.
Starting in October 1997, Hoffmann was on the wean-finish team comprised of five or six individuals and 20 independent farm families in two states. Today, the wean-finish team is comprised of more than 80 individuals and more than 300 independent farm families in four states. 26 years later, Hoffmann has continued to grow his influence within SFI, currently serving as the director of wean finish production. His role includes leading the entire wean-finish team alongside the dedicated core of regional managers, supervisors and vendors.
“One of Aaron’s amazing qualities is his ability to adapt. Changes occur rapidly and unexpectedly in our industry, such as herd health, flow and scheduling; Aaron responds to these changes with expansive willingness and a calm demeanor,” said John Schwartz, CEO and President of Schwartz Farms, Inc.
Hoffmann values the tactical aspects of his work such as working to enforce biosecurity and managing pig flow, but he also emphasizes the importance of the family-like culture at SFI as well as promoting pork in the community.
Thriving in the Role
With his experience over time, Hoffmann has been a true example of what it means to be a leader in both pork production and managing others.
“Through my role, I try to get the most out of people by figuring out what their strengths and weaknesses are and put them in a position to succeed,” Hoffmann said.
He also knows the value of leading by example and helping in whatever role, no matter the title. “I’ve done it all here, from loading hogs to receiving wean pigs to giving shots to pulling pigs,” he stated. “I don’t ask anybody to do anything that I haven’t done myself. We preach lead by example within this company, so when our supervisors and team leaders go to sites, they still do those things – walk pens, treat pigs, daily care, move pigs, load pigs. It’s a big team effort.”
Hoffmann and SFI have increased biosecurity measures to ensure the healthiest animals and best production practices. With all the illnesses pigs are susceptible to, keeping pigs healthy is core to what practices Hoffmann trains employees. This includes weekly reminders on the importance of strictly adhering to biosecurity for employees. There are several check-ins to ensure employees are where they were assigned in order to guarantee no pig was missed in getting checked on and receiving care.
“During one of his first performance reviews, Aaron was recognized for being a valuable asset to SFI by adapting well, being dependable and conscientious and taking pride in seeing results,” recalled Schwartz. “26 years later, Aaron has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to those same attributes.”
Finding Joy in the Challenge
When asked what keeps him coming back after so many years, Hoffmann replied, “the challenge and the people. I have really enjoyed working for the Schwartz family, they have always treated employees with respect and fairness.”
“Our industry has experienced a lot in the past 25 years, and Aaron has championed these changes within Schwartz Farms, including but not limited to Pork Quality Assurance certifications, site assessments, premise IDs, outdoor housing, indoor housing, large pens, small pens, packer demands, COVID supply chain issues and the list goes on,” stated Schwartz.
Hoffmann welcomes the challenge of producing the highest quality product. Keeping the pigs healthy and improving production numbers are examples of his passion for continuing in this line of work. He also values how SFI as a company is competitive amongst themselves, striving to see improvement year after year.
In addition, Hoffmann meets with a peer group with other likeminded companies about twice a year to discuss production practices and any current or new events in the industry. Hoffmann said the group is helpful because it “provides insight into what others are seeing and doing, establishing a level of competition.”
Hoffmann notes how the atmosphere, values of the company and competition all inspire him to continue doing good work. He says he is motivated to, “Stay on top of our game, otherwise we could be beaten out by someone else.”
Engaging Others in the Industry
Living in the community he grew up in, Hoffmann seizes every opportunity he can to promote pork. He has volunteered in various school agricultural events at both the high school and collegiate levels. He travels to recruitment events at colleges, including his alma mater South Dakota State University, to have conversations with potential interns, who are often being exposed to a pig production internship for the first time. Hoffmann takes the time to speak with the students about the opportunities at SFI and what a career in the pork industry looks like. Once summer interns are hired, he hosts summer outings for the interns to expose them to even more experiences.
“Aaron has been an invaluable resource for our new professionals in the industry, coaching them, advocating for them, truly ensuring they are being engaged professionally and personally,” stated Schwartz. “Aaron is a true servant-leader and works diligently to retain the family feel in a growing company.”
Hoffmann also engages the next generation by his willingness to have fun with promotion. He is one of the go-to people for dressing up as a pig for the town’s parade. He also makes it a point to go to elementary schools, bringing baby piglets to expose children at a young age to the knowledge of what goes into raising pigs.
In addition, he has spent time on the Brown County Pork Producers board, participating in grilling events. He also helps in the SFI booth at Sleepy Eye Summerfest, where he recently led the effort to ensure a live piglet would be available at the booth.
“He crucially advocated for youth accessibility to the pen so they could experience the animals firsthand,” explained Schwartz. “Even in our rural community of Sleepy Eye, one father expressed his gratitude sharing, “My kids would never have a chance to see a pig first-hand if it wasn’t for you guys.’”
Whether he is hands on in a barn, training an employee or promoting the industry at a community level, Hoffmann is a true testament to what management in the Minnesota pork industry is about. He understands there are many different positions and titles, but at the end of the day everyone works together to get the job done.